Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

When I got the calendar alert reminding me I had a blog post due soon, I thought I’d write about ChatGPT – it’s been a big topic of conversation at my school and I have been in many really interesting conversations about what it is, what it means, and how we can use it. But then I caught Covid (my first time!) and the post-break return to school is always hectic so I haven’t really had the brain space to put my thoughts into words. 

Instead, I thought I’d share about an activity I did with our Media and Its Influences class yesterday. It was our first day of classes back from break, and a few of us are doing a “guest teacher” unit for the month of January. We wanted to both get students’ brains back in gear, and also learn a bit more about how they think about and evaluate news coverage. 

I went to Newseum’s collection of front pages from key moments in history and picked four events – Hurricane Katrina, the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage, the 2016 election, and the release of the Mueller report. I chose four front pages from each event, looking for a range of front pages – in tone, layout, location, etc. – and printed them on big pieces of paper and posted them around the room. 

After introducing the activity, we set students loose to examine the front pages and add notes/reflections responding to the following prompts: 

  1. What are the “vibes” of what you’re seeing?
    • What stands out to you about the word choice?
    • The imagery?
    • The physical layout of the article?
  2. What do you notice or wonder about regarding the different ways the event was covered by these sources?
  3. What questions do you have?

After everyone had a chance to look at all collections, we divided students into groups and gave them each a collection to discuss and to share takeaways with the group.

It definitely took some prodding to get students to offer the “why” of their interpretations, but with some gentle nudges they had some really great insights. One student noticed that almost all of the pictures from the same-sex marriage front pages were of white women (which was not something I’d done on purpose, but when I went back to look at the rest of the front pages was accurate overall). Another student noted that one of the front pages about Trump’s election looked like a poster, so we talked about the role of “front pages” historically. After a student noted that he’d never actually seen the front page of a newspaper (because no one in his house subscribes to a print paper) another student countered that “home pages” for websites work much the same way. There were lots of other great observations and discussions as well, and there will be lots we can refer back to and build on in order to deepen their understanding of how news media works.

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